Originally Published: June 20, 2018 6 a.m.
The World Cup, the greatest sporting spectacle on the planet, is coming to North America. The combined U.S., Mexico and Canada proposal, dubbed the “United Bid,” for the 2026 World Cup was overwhelmingly approved last week by delegates from 199 countries. The United bid prevailed over rival Morocco by a 2-1 margin.
The three-country proposal had a number of hurdles to overcome in the years’ long effort to secure the tournament. While soccer is Mexico’s number one sport, the U.S. and Canada are Johnny-come-latelies to the sport most of the world refers to as “Fútbol.”
Another negative in some voters’ minds is the fact that the U.S. Justice Department engineered the take-down of Sepp Blatter’s corrupt reign as president of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, commonly known as FIFA, the world governing body for soccer.
A multi-year investigation resulted in numerous indictments, convictions and resignations of FIFA officials, paving the way for a metamorphosis in how the organization operates.
Additionally, many of the world’s countries see our president as a bigot for his sometimes boorish comments and his anti-immigration stance. But according to The New York Times, Trump sent letters to FIFA members guaranteeing that no immigration crackdowns would adversely impact players, administrators or fans coming to the U.S. for the World Cup. Of course, Trump won’t be the president when the World Cup is played here in ’26, so we’re left to wonder how much of an impact his assurances may have had.
What swayed many voters was undoubtedly money, gobs of it. North America promised FIFA an $11 billion profit, more than double the amount anticipated from this year’s World Cup, currently underway in Russia. That guarantee could mean as much as $50 million for every national soccer association, many of which rely on FIFA payments for their entire operating budget.
Part of the increase in revenue will be the result of a new tournament format that will see 48 teams participate for the first time, up from the current 32. The new format will add 28 more matches for a total of 80 overall – 60 of which will be held in the U.S., 10 each in Mexico and Canada.
Several of those matches, including the opening games involving each of the host countries, the semi-finals and finals, could rival the Super Bowl for ticket sales and overall revenue. And if any of the host countries plays deep into the tournament, additional matches could be added to that elite group.
The 2026 tournament will be the first in the U.S. since 1994, which set a record for World Cup attendance – 68.991 per match – that still stands.
Sponsorship should also set a new record as many companies are likely to view a tournament hosted in North America as more attractive, from a business perspective, than this year’s event or the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Soccer fan or not, we should all be excited for the opportunity to have a close-up view of the world’s most popular sport played at the highest level.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in and chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions in this column are the author’s. Kobritz can be reached at email@example.com.